Sexual assault awareness ‘vital’
Members of UNM’s Women’s Resource Center gathered in a tent at Smith Plaza Wednesday morning amid a crowd of homecoming king and queen wannabes. But WRC members were not there to ask for people’s votes.
The center organized this year’s RAINN Day, which aims to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. About 50 students dropped by the center’s tent during the event.
Angela Catena, gendered violence program assistant of the WRC, said she organized the event in coordination with a national movement by the national organization Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN). She said the center held the event in time for the “red zone.”
“That is the point when sexual assaults on campus are most likely to happen,” she said. “We chose a day in the middle of the ‘red zone’ for a national awareness event.”
This is the second year in which the resource center held the event on campus, Catena said.
Catena said the event aims to continue the campus community’s concern with sexual assault at UNM, especially considering incidents that happened on campus in the spring semester.
Two sexual assaults occurred on campus during the spring semester.
The first was Jan. 27, when two men allegedly sexually battered a female student at Johnson Field under her clothes. The second assault happened Feb. 4, when a man allegedly sexually battered a female student over her clothes near Castetter Hall.
According to a RAINN flyer distributed by the center in the event, one in six women and one in ten men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. According to a WRC flyer handed at the event, this means 4,018 of UNM’s current students will experience sexual assault in their lifetime, of which 2,705 are women and 1,313 are men.
But Catena said this is an indefinite number.
“It’s a scary number, and people have to keep in mind that rape is the most underreported crime out there,” she said. “And so, this is a staggering number, and it can show…that it may still be a lot higher. People should know about it.”
At the event, WRC members asked students to color raindrops on large sheets of paper with paint. There were 4,018 raindrops in the sheets, which aims to symbolize the number of UNM students who will experience sexual assaults in their lifetime.
Other organizations also attended the event.
Holly Spackman, prevention education coordinator with the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico, said her organization attended the event in support of the WRC. She said the number of incidents that could happen on campus is horrible.
“I think it’s devastating,” she said. “I think the fact that rape culture is so prevalent here in the United States and the fact that it’s not just here but in any campus are devastating. Something needs to be done about it.”
Spackman said her organization offers victim support services, which are free of charge, to help sexual assault victims. She said her organization also travels to middle schools and high schools around the state “to work with them when they’re younger and try to talk to them about how to empower them about how to change their community.”
Awareness is the key to prevention, Spackman said.“If people aren’t aware of it, if they’re going to bury their heads on the sand, then it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, sexual assault doesn’t occur. It doesn’t happen here, not in my backyard.’ So awareness is vital,” she said.
Still, she said respect goes a long way.
“If everyone were being respectful of people’s boundaries and of the person’s wishes, sexual assault wouldn’t be occurring,” she said.
Catena said she applauds the University for launching the Sexual Assault Response Team this semester in response to the recent incidents. She said the WRC is working with UNM’s Police Department and with other groups on and off campus with various initiatives to raise awareness about sexual assault prevention.
She said students should still take caution.
“College is supposed to be a fun time, but they should understand that life isn’t always as safe as we want it to be,” she said. “But I think UNM is in a really great direction. There’s a lot of administration support, and now we just need student support.”
Catena said she is optimistic that in the future, UNM will be a sexual-assault-free campus.
“To have zero, that’s a really high expectation,” she said. “But I don’t see why we can’t get there. It may take a little bit of time, but we have to start somewhere. I’m really hopeful.”